Recipient of a Rheumatology Research Foundation Scientist Development Award, Ashira Blazer, MD, focuses her research on racial and ethnic disparities in lupus. She looks beyond socioeconomic differences, differences in lifestyles and access to care to better understand the biologically determined differences behind disparate outcomes.
With funding from the Foundation, she was able to investigate the genetic factors that impact systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) outcomes in African and African American patients over a two-year period. Her research was carried out at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC), as well as Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana. Results from her work have advanced the knowledge base and provided potential pathways for improved patient outcomes.
Working alongside local collaborator, Dzifa Dey, MSc, SCE‑RCP, FWACP, MGCPS, Dr. Blazer crafted a program that generated longitudinal data and longitudinal patient support. Drs. Blazer and Dey trained study coordinators who reached out to patients regularly, ensuring questions were addressed, medication plans were understood and clinic visits were kept. They created culturally appropriate educational materials and distributed them to all study participants. Dr. Blazer also trained a local nurse in SLE clinical features. The nurse now acts as a physician-extender, holding clinical hours to bolster patient care.
A year prior to Dr. Blazer’s arrival in Ghana, Dr. Dey published a report showing that 50% of patients hospitalized for SLE at her institution succumbed to disease within two years. Since 2015, Dr. Blazer says the mortality rate in the 110-patient cohort has fallen to 5%.
“My Foundation award gave me the funding and freedom to explore the genetics of SLE in African patients in several countries,” said Dr. Blazer. “I was moved to learn how much structured care and knowledge could improve patient outcomes. With this experience, I am positioned to implement this structure in other developing countries and am excited at the potential impact of this work.”